In the last blog post, I promised we’d take a deeper look at one of the two elements that contain all the details of how I made the transition from pain to wellness using the Feldenkrais MethodⓇ.
Those two elements were:
- Deeply embracing the fact that life is a process
- Becoming an awesome learner
I think that last blog post made it pretty clear that understanding that life is a process paves the way for becoming a better learner.
So let’s take a look at this whole notion of learning because developing my learning power was fundamental to my transition from pain to wellness. And the Feldenkrais Method is remarkably good at improving your learning power.
Let’s first make a couple of distinctions about ways of learning…
There are two ways of learning that I’ll point out here because they’re probably the most well known and the most important to helping you understand why this made such a big difference to me and so many others practising the Feldenkrais Method.
First, there’s the type of learning that almost everyone initially thinks of when they think of learning: intellectual learning ― the type of learning related to acquiring knowledge and the type of learning done in schools ― in other words, academic learning.
But there’s also the type of learning that everyone is doing all the time, but rarely think about and don’t understand very well: experiential learning ― the type of learning related to developing know-how.
Here’s an example of the difference between the two:
Intellectual/academic learning is what we’re doing when learning to read and write, do math, bookkeeping, understand how to read charts to trade stocks on the market and so on and so forth.
Discovery learning is what you’re doing when you learn to ride a bike, bake a souffle, swim, turn a vase, and so on.
Both are great, but only if the type of learning fits the need. They aren’t both great for the same things.
A doctor learning about the physiology of the heart and differential diagnosis’ related to the heart will be better served using one form of learning while learning to make the distinctions about heart sounds through her new stethoscope will be better off using a different set of learning skills. They are both vital to the doctor becoming a good doctor. Guess which of these requires which type of learning?
I can say with 100% certainty that knowing why I was hurting didn’t and wouldn’t make one lick of difference to the quality of my life when I was experiencing a lot of pain. That sort of knowledge acquisition wouldn’t get me out of the regular pain I was having. I could study all I wanted about pain, muscles, fascia, joints, inflammation ― you name it ― and I still would have continued to have the pain. Fact is, I did study an awful lot of that stuff!
What made the difference to my pain was spending a whole lot of time in experiential, or discovery learning. I had to steep myself in learning by doing and deep sensing. This involved two things….
- Learning how to learn
- Learning know-how
Learning how to learn is something I’m absolutely passionate about. It is what keeps me so damn motivated to do this work that I do. I believe it’s so worthwhile for anyone and everyone to develop I can hardly stand myself!
But first, let me be clearer about the part about learning “know-how”. What exactly do I mean?
What I had to learn to transition from pain to wellness was how to move well. What this meant was
- Feeling how I related all my parts to each other when I moved, and how I could improve these relationships
- How I related to the ground on which and over which I moved
- My relationship to gravity and space…
These are not things I could study as abstractions and make one whit of difference.
You can read all you want about how to ride a bike (or these days ― watch as many youtube videos as you like) but until you do it, you really can’t say you’ve learned how to do it.
To move well, I’ve been learning what to pay attention to, and how to pay attention. Again, this isn’t something I simply read, attend lectures or watch videos about. I have to do it!
You can’t learn to ride a bike without riding a bike!
The abstract concepts of bike riding are completely unnecessary and in fact, can interfere with learning how to ride a bike. You learning to ride a bike is not an abstract concept. It’s a concrete and very particular instance of bike riding ― it’s you riding a bike.
The transition from pain to wellness involves this kind of learning.
Unfortunately, so much time, energy and value have been placed on academic, intellectual learning and knowledge acquisition that this other form of learning is too often either taken for granted or just grossly undervalued.
The good news is that this kind of learning is entirely natural ― it’s our biological inheritance. In other words, we’re born with this innate learning intelligence.
It’s true that this form of learning, actually all forms of learning can be undermined by cultural and societal influences. But it can be recaptured, nurtured and maximised to your great benefit.
You know, it’s so interesting that while I was thinking about how to present this topic to you here in this post, I had a little revelation…
You know how most kids play make believe…
And a very common make-believe game is “school” where one kid plays the teacher and the others the students?
Well when I was a kid, I can’t ever recall playing the teacher. What I do remember is pretending I was attending some super cool, extra special place where learning and problem solving and observation and discovery were what we did all day long. I don’t remember it being exactly a school or university. It was more like a cutting-edge, multidisciplinary (heavy on the science and math) think tank ― only as a kid, I had no idea things like this might actually exist. I just wished they did!
How funny is that! But there it is…
Discovery and learning for its own sake, for the sheer joy of it, was so cool and enlivening to me.
I loved sports and spending my days outdoors in the woods and on the lake where I grew up. So it wasn’t like I was this total book worm. But there was an absolute appreciation of the juicy, wonderous, fulfilling feeling of learning and discovery.
Then I got older, and school became more a chore and what I thought of as the practicalities of life landed with that burdensomeness that jades so many of us. Trying to get into physio school was all about grades. You were competing against others for the very few, precious spots in physio school and the highest grades got in. So with so little time to get all the school work done, I did what too many students do. I started studying for the grade.
It was rarely fun. It didn’t feel anything like what I’d imagined when I played make-believe when I was a little girl. I didn’t exactly hate it, but I certainly wasn’t feeling “juicy wondrousness”, and it was stressful, to say the least.
Academics and intellectual learning can be fun and rewarding. But I’d lost the balance between the different ways of learning. It’d become way too heavy on conceptualization, analytical thinking, abstraction, conscious, deliberate thinking. And way, way too light on discovery, questioning, curiosity, contemplation, wonder, and exploration.
But here’s the thing ― discovery, questioning, curiosity, contemplation, wonder and exploration are natural to us! Watch any very young child and it becomes outrageously obvious…
We are born for learning.
And this type of learning, especially in today’s world, needs to be protected, nurtured and developed more than ever.
Just because this kind of learning is something we’re born with, doesn’t mean we’re still naturally good at it anymore, or that it can’t be “schooled out of us”. So it can take some work to recapture it. It takes some unlearning of some harmful habits, for most of us. And to be brutally honest, it takes a willingness to be pretty damned uncomfortable at times. But I for one believe it is oh-so worth it! Why? Because I’ve experienced it first hand for myself and along with many of my clients.
Next post we’ll dive into what it takes to develop this learning power.
In the meantime, I’d like to invite you to take a look at your ideas about learning, as well as the nature of your relationship with learning.
Have these been consistent throughout your life? Or have your thoughts about learning or your relationship to learning changed over time?
Maybe your relationship to learning is very different from one context to another. What makes the difference?